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  • Proceedings of DiGRA 2013 Conference: DeFragging Game Studies.

    2013 Authors & Digital Games Research Association DiGRA. Personal and educational classroom use of

    this paper is allowed, commercial use requires specific permission from the author.

    Incongruous Avatars and Hilarious Sidekicks: Design Patterns for Comical Game Characters

    Claire Dormann University of Ottawa

    School of Information Studies

    55 Laurier E., Ottawa ON K1N 6N5 Canada

    613-562-5800 x4842

    cdormann@uottawa.ca

    Mish Boutet University of Ottawa

    School of Information Studies

    55 Laurier E., Ottawa ON K1N 6N5 Canada

    613-562-5800

    mish.boutet@gmail.com

    ABSTRACT Integrating humour in games or designing humorous games can be challenging but

    rewarding. Contributing to practical knowledge of these contexts, we examine the role

    and value of humour in game character design. We begin with a brief review of main

    theories of humour. Next, we outline our methodology, describing steps taken to develop

    game design patterns on humour. From our investigation, we present a classification of

    comic characters and discuss a sampling of patterns for characters, highlighting design

    considerations particular to these. Then we enrich our collection by situating our

    character patterns within the comic worlds the characters inhabit. Our intent is to create

    tools that game designers can use for laughter-inducing entertainment, to generate new,

    amusing gameplay experiences.

    Keywords humour, comic, game design patterns, character design

    INTRODUCTION A common tendency is to think of humour only as fun. Indeed, fun has value and is an

    end in itself. People engage in the exchange of jokes and humorous exploits to provoke

    laughter and share pleasurable experiences. However, in addition to providing

    entertainment, integrating humour into videogames can serve social, emotional, and

    cognitive functions, providing players with benefits beyond laughter. This integration can

    be challenging, but the payoffs to well-implemented humour can be tremendous.

    A major source of humour can come from games characters. These characters can be

    humorous in appearance, speech, action, interactions, or gameplay mechanics.

    mailto:cdormann@uottawa.camailto:mish.boutet@gmail.com

  • -- 2 --

    For example, you have the risible visual design of the frog-like Globox in 2D platformer

    Rayman Origins (Ubisoft 2011).You have the dry wit of Nathan Drake in action-

    adventure Uncharted 3 (Naughty Dog 2011). Or, you have the wobbly mechanics of an

    octopus disguised as a human in adventure Octodad (DePaul Game Experience 2010).

    Humour can also arise from characters juxtapositions in unlikely environments or

    situations. Humour, and comic characters in particular, can increase a games appeal and

    leave its mark on players. How much are our fond memories of LucasArts adventures

    buoyed by their pantheon of compellingly comic characters and their interactions in the

    worlds around them?

    To gain a better understanding of humour in game and game character design, we begin

    with a brief review of humour theories. From a survey of comical characters and analysis

    of gameplay examples, we present a classification of comic characters and a sampling of

    our game design patterns. Then, we discuss how to expand and enrich our collection of

    character patterns by situating them within the comic worlds they inhabit. In this paper,

    we highlight the potential of humour for character design and discuss factors affecting its

    design. We hope to provide better tools for designers to implement humour in games and

    create new comical games.

    BACKGROUND ON HUMOUR AND THE COMIC Humour is an essential component of communication and integral to popular culture.

    Among other things, it is used to communicate, consolidate, and negotiate differences of

    political, cultural, or social status. Its pairing with game design is a match well-made, for

    many designers, notwithstanding the desire to make good games, also use games to

    communicate, negotiate, or transgress these very differences.

    Humour is experienced by all, yet is difficult to capture and define. Humour has been

    described as a process, initiated by humorous stimuli and terminating with responses

    indicative of pleasure and joy, such as mirth, the most enduring property of humour

    (Gruner 1996). Following Martin (2007), humour is conceptualized and used in this paper

    as an overarching concept that includes different kinds of comic devices, such as wit,

    ridicule, or slapstick.

    Three main classical theories of humour are superiority, relief, and incongruity theory

    (Meyer 2000). These three are neither incompatible nor exclusive, but highlight different

    aspects of humour. Superiority theory relates to social and power relations, while relief

    theory mainly addresses emotion, and incongruity theory connects to the cognitive side of

    humour (Raskin 1985).

    Gruner (2011) views humour as playful aggression, with a winner and loser. Superiority

    humour is often connected to malice. People laugh because they feel superior to others.

    Think Schadenfreude and the nasty pleasure of balking at those who feature in reality

    television series. This kind of humour mocks people, making them appear ridiculous and

    refers to genres such as satire, sarcasm, and self-deprecation. In games, this kind of

    humour comes into play in first-person shooters and other competitive multiplayer games

    as a result of avatar death (Dormann and Biddle 2009). It is why we laugh at the

    overconfident Dan Hibiki from fighting game Super Street Fighter IV (Capcom 2010) or,

    in part, at the goofy Globox in Rayman Origins.

  • -- 3 --

    According to relief theory, humour results from releasing nervous energy. People

    experience humour, then laugh to reduce stress. The pleasurable aspect of humour, with

    its liberating effect, is often highlighted here. Relief humour may manifest in different

    ways, from dark, gallows humour, to sexual or naughty humour. Leisure Suit Larry in

    the Land of the Lounge Lizards (Sierra On-Line 1987) and its sequels, for example,

    featuring the misadventures of Larry Laffer, have their humour firmly entrenched within

    this theory. Relief theory is notably the most well-known aspect of humour in games,

    particularly in association with comic characters. A comic relief character lightens moods

    or diffuses tension through humour.

    Finally, according to incongruity theory, people laugh at the unexpected or surprising

    (Berger 1993). Humour involves imagination and seeing things from unusual

    perspectives. This form of humour typically plays with different frames of reference,

    multiple meanings, ambiguity, and association. It includes forms of verbal humour, such

    as jokes and puns, as well as visual humour, such as sight gags. Some game character

    names contains puns, many examples of which are found in tower-defence Plants vs.

    Zombies (PopCap Games 2009), such as the peashooter, repeater, and threepeater plants

    that fire one, two, or three peas at a time respectively, to fend off zombies. Classic

    LucasArts adventures mastered incongruity with their delightful, if fiendishly difficult,

    puzzles.

    COMIC CHARACTER PATTERNS This paper stems from a broader investigation of humour in videogames and discovery of

    tools to assist in its design. We conducted interviews with players, drawing on their

    recollections of humorous game experiences. Within these interviews, numerous

    statements related to game characters, from their roles as comic relief to characters

    snarky comments. As we too could recall comic characters from our play experiences, we

    decided to look closer at the design of comic characters and its value. Character design

    has been examined by developers and scholars (e.g. Meretzky 2001, Salen and

    Zimmerman 2004, Isbister 2006), but little has been written on characters and humour.

    There exist numerous YouTube countdowns (of varying quality) and lists on prominent

    gaming sites on the best comic characters. We thus conducted an extensive survey

    centred on humour in character design, which included reviewing game articles on

    humour, and mining reviews and forum discussions for references to humour in game

    characters. Listing the types of games and characters, and analyzing the parameters of

    humour in their representation gave us insight into dimensions of humour in character

    design.

    To further analyze humour in context, we examined in-game moments related to humour

    in several popular games through inspection and gameplay. We also added examples

    derived from affective walkthroughs (a process detailed in Dormann et al., 2011) of

    comic LucasArts games conducted for another project. We then consolidated and

    conceptualized the knowledge derived from the review and gameplay into emergent

    humour patterns. In game design, patterns have been used as a problem-solving method

    or a way of codifying design knowledge (Bjrk and Holopainen 2005). Our patterns are

    descriptions of recurring aspects of game design concerning humour, with a focus on

    intentional, scripted humour, rather than players' emergent humour. We then reviewed

  • -- 4 --

    and refined patterns, adding further exampl